I was asked this in a comment yesterday: “Do I really need an iPhone to get about? What happened to maps?”
I like to use a paper map to orientate me in a city and to get a better idea of where things are in relation to each other. If I’m just going from point A to B, I’ll also use it to navigate. Provided the city has adequate street signage, which so many of them do not.
To me, the question of whether you really need a smartphone to travel nowadays is akin to asking an explorer of old if he needs an astrolabe or a sextant. No, not strictly speaking. But it sure makes it easier to get around.
Your paper map won’t tell you where you are in an instant.
It doesn’t know the most pedestrian friendly route or the location of the nearest no-fee ATM.
It can’t let you do a quick search on the cheap sushi place to learn it has a mouse problem.
Unless it’s specifically for public transit, it very likely won’t be able to get you to the nearest bus stop for your route and tell you how quickly to expect the next bus.
The paper map will disintegrate in rain (like mine did on Friday — it was so damp out that even when under cover, the map was getting soaked).
Glancing at your smartphone is way more discrete and something locals do, which can be safer than standing on a corner with a giant map, branding yourself as a tourist.
A paper map also won’t give you access to your bank accounts if you need to move money around in a hurry, a calculator to do a quick currency conversion, or access to your invoicing system when you’re off on what is technically a work day and a client emails you with a question (your map also can’t get your emails).
I could go on and and on about the relevance of a smartphone. I travelled before they existed and having one is so much better than not having one. If you’re someone whose idea of travel is to take taxis between locations with very little walking around, then a paper map is likely still enough. But I cover a lot of ground on foot and I’d much rather have a little voice in my ear telling me turn here or there so that I can focus on discovering the city I’m visiting than to wander around with my nose buried in a map.
That said, I’d take my GPS over any smartphone maps and I’m still rather kicking myself for not finding room for mine!